This past Saturday, I overheard a conversation among gardeners in which the female participant was very excited that her male friend was growing beets. I cringed when I heard the word beets, because I don’t eat them and, unless starving, wouldn’t. My husband gags at the mention of beets. More about that in a minute. I recalled another such conversation I overheard once wherein a man was announcing proudly that he had planted his entire, quite sizable spring garden with only swiss chard. It made me wonder if people think I’m strange because of my long-term love affair with Brussels sprouts.
I have always loved Brussels sprouts, since childhood. I love their shape, their texture, and their taste. It never occurred to me until recently that they are not a really popular vegetable, and I am really surprised to find that out. It was a friend who told me that, and she is a registered dietitian, so I guess I have to believe her, but really, who knew? What’s not to love about them? They’re cute as a button – like little heads of cabbage. I don’t eat them raw, but I know several ways to cook them, and they’re all delicious. I just learned a new way earlier this year – I saw it on TV. Try this: Cut raw Brussels sprouts into thin slices (chiffonade, the technique was called), and saute them in some butter, adding some lemon juice just before serving. I topped this with toasted sliced almonds, and it was delicious! I usually just boil them (only very briefly) in some chicken broth with some garlic that has been sauteed in olive oil. I could eat that every day. My husband loves these. Beets, not so much.
My husband is from England, the land of over-cooked vegetables. He has spent the last 10+ years in America learning to overcome decades of vegetables boiled past the point of recognition, and he loves fresh vegetables. He’s not wild about sprouts – not Brussels sprouts – he loves those, but the sprouted seeds like mung beans that I am constantly sprouting to have on salads. Other than those, and beets, he’ll eat just about any vegetable that isn’t boiled to mush, and I’m grateful. I had a friend once whose husband wouldn’t eat onions, garlic, or tomatoes. Can you imagine? That marriage didn’t last- is it any wonder, really?
So back to Brussels sprouts – they’re amazing to grow. I’ve mentioned before how I must not have read the seed packet carefully, or was in denial or something, because the first time I grew them and they became HUGE, I was absolutely shocked. Now, in my third year of growing them, I plan ahead. They do become huge and you can’t inter-plant around them because their leaves are thick, heavy, and large. I know this because of the garlic I wasted planting around them… it never got bigger than a large marble because it never saw the sun once the Brussels sprouts began to flourish. I also learned something new last year about these – two things, actually. I hadn’t cleaned out my bed (or put the bed to bed, as we say) for the winter until several weeks after a really hard freeze. I just didn’t have time. Well, I had already harvested what I thought was the last batch of Brussels sprouts after a couple of frosts. They are the sweetest and most delicious if you wait to harvest until there’s been a frost or two. So, these were way past a good, hard freeze and I thought they were “picked out” – basically nothing left but stem, but guess what? They had put on more sprouts after the harvest, and I got several more pints weeks after I thought they were finished! That was a really nice bonus! We gave some of those away, ate some, and froze the rest to get us through the winter. We clean them, parboil them, drain them really well, and freeze them in freezer bags. If you lay the bags flat as they are freezing, it makes them easy to just pop out of the bag when you’re ready to use them. Don’t forget to label them and use the older stuff first.
The other thing I learned was that the stems do not compost well, and you can make a lovely border in a garden by stacking them crossways. They’re very woody and very tough, and since I’m a cheapskate, I love being able to use the whole plant! I’ve already planted mine for this fall, because they take a long time to produce in my zone, but already, I can’t wait.